How to Renovate in the East Village

Buildings in New York are old, and buildings in Manhattan’s East Village look even older. Up and down the neighborhood, pre-war walk-ups are standard, and a handful of …

Buildings in New York are old, and buildings in Manhattan’s East Village look even older. Up and down the neighborhood, pre-war walk-ups are standard, and a handful of outdated tenement buildings still stand. On one hand, the history of the buildings lends to the East Village’s cultural atmosphere ? but on the other hand, few people want to bother with the inconveniences of old buildings.

A few developers are setting their sights on the East Village, hoping to upgrade the outdated buildings for a more comfortable, contemporary feel. However, remodeling isn’t always easy in the city, especially when contractors are expected to preserve the history of the building and neighborhood while providing modern touches. Before you start demolition, here’s what you should know about apartment renovation in the East Village.

Hired Help

Most boroughs (Manhattan’s East Village included) require a permit from the city’s Department of Buildings before work can begin. Fortunately, permits usually come as part of the package when you hire an architect or engineer to design your remodel. Still, finding someone you trust and respect might be harder than it seems. Plenty of firms will quote exorbitant rates even before examining the space and learning your desired alternations, and others will deviate from your plans, costing you more money and ruining your designs. You need to find someone you can rely on to do the job quickly, efficiently, and well.

Nearly every expert agrees that referral from local friends and family is the best way to find someone you will like and respect, but if no one you know has completed an NYC renovation, you do have a handful of other options. Websites like Houzz and Architizer are online spaces where architects and designers congregate for jobs; meanwhile, the American Institute of Architects provides massive lists of its members, categorized by chapter and type of work. After the designs are complete, finding a contractor is usually much simpler: Buildings tend to have lists of approved contractors who are already familiar with the alteration rules.

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Rules and Restrictions

Every building in the city has rules dictating who, what, when, and how apartments can be renovated. As a tenant, you need only as your landlord or managing agent for a copy of the alteration rules, which is usually a rather large document that plainly explains the building’s various restrictions.

Construction is inconvenient to everyone in and around the remodeled space, so a common stipulation delineates blackout times when renovation is prohibited, to include nighttime, weekends, and holidays. In rare cases, blackout times can extend even further, perhaps allowing construction only during the summer when the building is emptiest. Additionally, buildings regularly impose time limits, imposing substantial fines if work extends after a certain period.

Even after hiring the perfect architect and scheduling the perfect time to work, most buildings require design plans to be approved by the board, which outsources review of plans and permits to a knowledgeable architect. The architect’s job is to preserve the integrity of the building in design and function, and any plans that threaten the building’s soundness will be nixed. Though it may not always be an option, selecting a building that has already been thoroughly updated, like one of Raphael Toledano’s real estate properties, might be best.

Costs and Complications

Remodeling in New York is a completely different process than it is anywhere else. While a single-family home renovation in Los Angeles might have a single costly surprise, an apartment in the East Village will have a handful. For example, if you wish to move or refurbish the plumbing in your apartment, you may need to update the building’s entire line. There may be ancient gas lines hidden in the walls, requiring alternative methods of demolition. Your windows may about the property line, so you must install special glass and sprinkler systems for fire safety.

Unexpected charges could exceed your budget more than twofold; thus, you must be especially in-tune with your finances before you begin your remodel. To begin, you might start making small updates to your apartment, perhaps new paint, knobs, and faucets, to determine whether or not your space needs a full overhaul. If small changes make your apartment infinitely more livable, you might be able to avoid the massive expense (and headache) that is renovation in the East Village.


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